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The Elusive Scope: Business Advice for Surveyors

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series July 2017

How to prepare for and meet your client’s needs by keeping your eye on the project scope.

I wrote many business-advice columns in this magazine’s predecessor, Professional Surveyor Magazine. Now that I’ve adjusted to writing for the entire geomatics world rather than on just surveying issues, I believe I’ve found one topic that affects everyone in the geospatial community: the elusive scope of services.

Problems with Requests

Whether you practice in the public or private sector, having a strong, detailed, and–most importantly–thorough scope is essential to any successful project.

The most serious issue I have discovered in discussions on scope is that, in many cases, the writer of the RFQ (request for quotation), RFP (request for proposal), or proposal itself is not technically proficient in the services being requested. In many large organizations, the document is written by an administrative team rather than by technical staff. This can lead to many types of problems.

In one recent RFQ, the request limited the definition of scope to one page. Any questions were allowed by email only and would be answered en masse. The weakness of the document was revealed when seven pages of questions were submitted. The requestor’s expectations were obviously unclear; therefore, the responders could not create an adequate submission.

This example is for before the project starts, but too often, as well, unfulfilled expectations during the project cause cost overruns, scheduling issues, and, in many cases, bad blood.


In the private sector, when you need to write a proposal for a client, perform that task only after a thorough pre-proposal meeting. Make sure you hear all the client’s expectations. You should never hear at a later date, “Oh, I thought that was included,” or “You knew I needed that.”

Never assume that, because the firm has supplied a certain type of service before, that process will meet the expectations of this particular client. Proposals are not one size fits all.

Whether writing an RFQ or RFP in the public sector or a direct proposal in the private sector, remember that scope means:






When you finish creating the document, have a peer review it for what you may have missed or, just as importantly, anything that may be unclear. When issues you didn’t clarify in the proposal arise during the project, the solution will often come out of your firm’s pocket.

I enjoy writing proposal and RFQ responses when the client limits the number of pages for the response to 30 or 40 (just kidding). Were I reviewing these submittal “volumes,” the first one less than 15 pages would go to the top of my candidates list.

Private sector proposals should have a mantra of “clear and concise”; yet public sector responses to RFQ and RFP requests should have a mantra of “thorough.” Your brilliant solution to the client’s problem may never be seen if you leave out item 8 on the RFQ checklist and your submission is disqualified.

I suggest you take proposal writing seriously, particularly the clarity and thoroughness of the document. As I tell attendees at many of my seminars, I prefer not to change the student-teacher relationship to a defendant-expert one. While change is inevitable, limiting that scope creep is the task of a great scope.

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